Coaches: Mark Fox (106-80 in 8 years at UGA); Matt McCall (First Yr)
Last Time They Met: Georgia 86, Chattanooga 55 (Dec. 2, 2014)
Series: Georgia leads 28-5
Players To Watch (Georgia): G-Charles Mann
Players To Watch (Chattanooga): G/F-Casey Jones
2014-15 Records: Chattanooga (22-10, 15-3 SoCon/2nd); Georgia (21-12, 11-7 SEC)
Chattanooga opens the 2015-16 season with a big matchup on the road at SEC member Georgia Friday night.
Last season, the Bulldogs had their way with the Mocs in the Scenic City, as the Bulldogs posted an 86-55 win over the Mocs, handing Chattanooga what was their worst loss in front of the home folks last season.
The Mocs have a collection of talent considered among the best in mid-major hoops heading into the 2015-16 season, with the likes of preseason SoCon Player of the Year Casey Jones (14.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG) back, as well as one of the nation's top shot-blockers, in Justin Tuoyo (10.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG).
But whether or not the Mocs make a run this season might be much more about the newcomers that first-year head coach Matt McCall welcomes into the fold, with players like UT-Martin transfer Dee Oldham introduced into the fold, as well as College of Charleston 6-2 transfer guard Jonathan Burroughs-Cook, who might be one of the best athletes in mid-major hoops.
Those two new pieces got a chance to see plenty of action in Chattanooga's 91-63 blasting of nearby Covenant College last weekend, with Burroughs-Cook finishing with 10 points on 3-for-7 shooting from the field, while Oldham added six. Burroughs-Cook and Oldham are part of a class that includes six newcomers.
Center Rich Kalina (7-0/252 lbs), guard ZaQwan Matthews (6-4/171 lbs), forward Jackson White (6-9/212 lbs) and Peyton Woods (6-3/167 lbs) round out the newcomers. Both Kalina and Matthews were three-star prospects and should see plenty of action this season. Keep an eye on Woods, who scored 2,467 and connected on 362 triples as a prep.
Other pieces that look to step into a larger role this season in McCall's first season are forwards Duke Etheridge (5.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG) and Chuck Ester (3.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG) are back, as well as sharp-shooting guard Eric Robertson, who led the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage last season.
The starting corps will revolve around Jones and Tuoyo, of course, and those two will once again average in double figures. Jones, a junior, who started all 30 games he played in last season, is the second-leading scorer returning in the league from a year ago, and is one of the best rebounding guards in the league, having averaged 7.0 RPG last season.
Tuoyo was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year last season, having swatted away a school-record 104 shots last season, ranking fourth nationally in that category by averaging 3.3 BPG. To me, what Tuoyo does on both ends of the floor makes him the Mocs' most important player.
A player to keep a keen eye on this season is Tre' McLean (4.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG), who might be the most improved player on the roster, and started 15 games for the Mocs last season. Chattanooga was 11-4 in those games. The 6-5 slasher has made a concerted effort to step up his scoring this season, and is a potential breakout player in the SoCon this season.
Greg Pryor (11.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG) returns to run the point, and was a preseason Third-Team All-SoCon pick by the league's media. He is a crafty, quick guard who has quietly developed into one of the best point guards in the SoCon.
Background and History:
One of the greatest upsets in the history of Chattanooga basketball occurred when these two squared off on the college basketball hardwood, which was in the 1997 NCAA Tournament, as the Mocs pulled off a 73-70 win over the Bulldogs en route to that memorable Sweet 16 run.
In fact, two of the three teams the Mocs will face will face this season are two of the foes the Mocs faced in that memorable Sweet 16 run back in 1997, with the other opponent being Illinois, who the Mocs defeated 75-63 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament before eventually bowing out with a 71-65 loss to Providence in Birmingham. The Mocs are just 5-28 all-time against the Bulldogs.
A Look At Georgia:
Georgia, who will once again be under the leadership of Mark Fox, will look to make it back to the Big Dance without three major parts of that NCAA Tournament team a year ago, in Marcus Thornton (12.3 PPG), Cameron Forte (4.0 PPG) and Nemanja Djurisic (11.0 PPG), but return senior guards Kenny Gaines (11.7 PPG) and Charles Mann (11.2) both return to the fold from a team that won 21 games last season.
Mann has a chance to be one of the best players in the SEC this season, and he will lead the team along with the aforementioned Mann. Mann and Gaines bring the kind that backcourt experience that will the Bulldogs allow to once again be a factor in the SEC race, as the duo has a combined 133 starts between them.
Another key cog in the backcourt will be J.J. Frazier--a 5-10 guard who started 16 games last season and was third on the team in scoring average, posting an output of 9.5 PPG to go along with dishing out better than three assists per game last season (3.3 APG).
There's no dancing around the fact that the Bulldogs lost nearly 40% of their scoring from a year ago, with the departures of Thornton, Forte and Djurisic. That means post production is going to from four-star recruit Derek Ogbeide, who is a tenacious athlete that is strong on the glass and is also a strong defensive presence in the paint, and like Chattanooga's Tuoyo, will affect shots with his athleticism. At 6-8, 250 lbs, he's a beast in the paint and a player Fox hopes can step in immediately and be a leader in the frontcourt.
Two other talented freshmen will be introduced into the fold, with the additions of 6-6 E'Torrion Wilridge and 6-9 Mike Edwards, who both had outstanding careers as preps, averaging nearly a double-double per outing. The Bulldogs' most experienced player in the paint returning to the fold is Yante Maten--a 6-8, 240-lb junior who averaged 5.0 PPG and led the team averaging 1.4 blocks-per-game last season.
Though the Mocs were 31 point losers to the Bulldogs last season, one must remember that Mercer carried this same Georgia team into overtime last season, so this is a winnable game for the Mocs, but they must play to their potential.
Matchup To Watch:
Chattanooga's chances in this game may well come down to their depth in the front court, and in particular, in the middle. Justin Tuoyo vs. Derek Ogbeide will be a matchup worth watching in the opener. Ogbeide is a budding star, but Tuoyo has the experience and know-how, and is one of the top players in the Southern Conference.
Did You Know:
One of the most prominent families in the history of college and professional basketball link these two programs together. Dominique Wilkins, who in his days with the Atlanta Hawks was known as the "Human Highlight Reel", played his college basketball at Georgia from 1979-82,helping lay the foundation for a Georgia program that progressed to the Final Four a year after his departure for the NBA.
As a junior in 1981-82, Wilkins was named the SEC Player of the Year, and averaged 21.6 PPG in his illustrious career. He left Georgia following his junior year for the NBA Draft.
Gerald Wilkins is the younger brother of Dominique, and is one of the most decorated players in the history of Chattanooga basketball, starring for the Mocs from 1982-85 before entering the NBA Draft, where he was selected by the New York Knicks in the second round. He was a participant in the NBA Dunk contest twice, though he never won it like his older brother did. One of the biggest moments as a collegiate basketball player came in 1984, as he led the Mocs to a NIT victory over his older brother's alma mater, Georgia.
Wilkins finished out his career as the program's second all-time leading scorer, with 1,449 points, and he is in Chattanooga's Hall-of-Fame. His son, Damien Wilkins, went on to play basketball at NC State and Georgia, while his daughter, Holli Wilkins, went on to play NCAA Division I women's basketball at Chattanooga's SoCon rival Furman.
This game should be won by Georgia, however, this will be the first of three high-profile mid-majors Georgia will face, also facing Murray State (Nov. 20) and High Point (Nov. 25), and it wouldn't be shocking to see the Bulldogs fall to one of the three. Chattanooga is probably the most talented of that trio, and will likely offer the most difficult challenge, but no doubt the trio are among the top mid-major programs in the nation heading into the 2015-16 season. If Chattanooga can hang around, they could give the Bulldogs nightmares in this one.
Final Score Prediction: Georgia 72, Chattanooga 66